Born: June 6, 1942 Primary Instrument: Vocalist
Bongos Ikwue was born in Otukpo, Benue State in east-central Nigeria, of Idoma ethnicity on June 6, 1942. His father was a farmer and Bongos childhood was filled with the events of simple country living. Enamored of all types of music at an early age he absorbed everything he heard: traditional music and folk tales of the Idoma people, a wide array of American styles including gospel, country, blues, jazz and R & B, Cuban and other Caribbean styles that he absorbed from the radio and his brother’s record collection, and of course myriad popular African styles.
He began writing songs at an early age but his parents pushed him to pursue a respectable profession and sent him off to school. As he continued his songwriting efforts, he formed his first band, the Cubana Boys. While studying engineering at Ahmadu Bello University in Zaria, he formed another band, the UniBello Brothers, as well as a folk group; he even learned Irish songs from an expatriate lecturer.
In 1967 he formed Bongos & The Groovies, which rapidly became a popular performing and recording ensemble that featured Bongos’ evolving original, highly personal style of Nigerian pop. He didn’t pattern his music after any artist nor did it fit any existing style. A recording contract with EMI led to numerous hits such as “Lagos”, “Tell My Girl”, “You Can’t Hurry The Sunrise” and “Otachikpokpo” and best-selling albums. His song “Cock Crow At Dawn” became the theme song of a popular Nigerian TV soap opera that ran into the Nineties.
But where other Nigerian artists such as Sunny Ade, Fela Anikulapo-Kuti, Sonny Okosun and OJ Ekemode saw their music released internationally and toured abroad, the only Bongos recording to be released internationally was his hit “Still Searching”, which appeared on BLACK STARLINER, a compilation of African popular music released in the Seventies.
After three decades of performing he scaled back his musical activity and devoted more time to his entrepreneurial activities, which included owning and running a furniture factory. But in the new millennium, some of his vintage hits were included on such acclaimed compilations as Nigeria 70 and Nigeria Disco Funk Special which sparked a resurgence of interest in Afro-pop from Nigeria and other West African countries. Bongos’ song “Inale” was the theme to an award-winning film produced by his daughter Keke; the soundtrack, which Bongos composed, won an award for Best Soundtrack at the 2011 African Movie Academy Awards.